By Michael Slater and Nathan Henderson-James
The US EAC tasked with, among other things, serving as a clearinghouse for election research decided to play politics today with the release of a study documenting the impact of voter identification requirements on voting. The study, conducted jointly by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University for the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC), found that documentary ID requirements lower voter turnout, particularly for minority voters. Researchers examined voting in the 2004 election. Several states have adopted more stringent voter ID requirements since 2004.
The EAC, however, despite commissioning the study and setting the guidelines for its completion took the unusual step of declining to endorse it.
Perhaps the reason behind this unfortunate lack of spine lies in the study’s findings (PDF), which found a statistically significant correlation between identification requirements and reduced voter turnout:
“These correlations translated into reduced probabilities of voting of about 3 to 4 percent for the entire sample, with larger differences for specific subgroups. For example, the predicted probability that Hispanics would vote in states that required non-photo identification was about 10 percentage points lower than in states where Hispanic voters gave their names. The difference was about 6 percent for African- Americans and Asian-Americans, and about 2 percent for white voters.”
The EAC released the report along with a statement noting the Commission declined to endorse the report’s finding, citing methodological concerns. The EAC promised to assemble a working group to help guide future, long-term study of voter identification requirements.
Project Vote Deputy Director Michael Slater had this to say about the EAC’s decision,
“It appears that politics remains the EAC’s main priority. It’s disappointing that the Commission is building a reputation for ignoring or suppressing research findings that don’t satisfy everyone’s ideological position. The methodology used by the report’s authors follow commonly accepted social science practices and their conclusions for the 2004 election are valid. The EAC should be embarrassed by its attempt to impeach the report’s findings by insinuating its methodology is unsound.”
This current embarrassment comes on the heels of criticism leveled at the EAC earlier this year for suppressing a bipartisan report that found little evidence of fraudulent voting. After news coverage and expressions of concern from advocates, the EAC made significant edits to the report and then released it. Like the current voter ID study, the EAC raised methodological concerns about the voter fraud report and then promised to conduct further research.
One conclusion that might be drawn from this is that the commissioners charged with overseeing the EAC’s activities are under the same spell confounding other entities within the US government, a situation most clearly exemplified by the current unfolding scandal around the firing of the 8 US Attorneys. Rather than discharging their mandate to provide clear and honest information surrounding the implementation of elections in the United States, these commissioners prefer to muddy the waters and impugn the integrity of their own reports.
Michael Slater is the Deputy Director of Project Vote and the director of its Election Administration Program.
Nathan Henderson-James is the Director of Project Vote's Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).